For those of us whose drinking preferences tend toward the Teutonic, the image of sipping a cold brew in a bustling beer garden is a pleasant image for late summer and early fall. But just what makes a garden a beer garden, or for those who prefer an air of authenticity, a biergarten?
What are the telltale characteristics of this uniquely Bavarian drinking destination? Can just any old place be a biergarten?
Is the outdoor seating at my favorite restaurant considered a biergarten? Must there even be a garden involved? Surely, there has to be beer, right? Well, there are plenty drinking spots that apply the appellation, but to the average small-town German, a biergarten means a certain kind of place with a certain kind of atmosphere.
Firstly, a biergarten is, by definition, an outdoor space. There may be a Gastätte or guesthouse featuring an indoor restaurant, but the primary gathering space is outside. This space is packed with long tables and sheltered from the elements by oversized umbrellas or awnings. The rains won’t keep the guests from their wursts as the biergarten provides them some shelter in a natural setting. This natural backdrop makes for some of the best ambience. The Waldgastätte Schießhaus, outside Schweinfurt in Franconia, is situated on the grounds of a former army shooting range and is located in the woods outside of town, surrounded by hiking trails. The Spezial-Keller biergarten, perched on a hill in Bamberg, offers a stunning view of the venerable city’s medieval skyline.
The natural setting provides a backdrop for the biergarten’s genial atmosphere. Drinking beer has no stigma as it does in parts of the US, so an afternoon in the garden is a family affair. Whole families eat and drink together, and you’ll see kids much younger than twenty-one enjoying the national beverage. Germany’s well-known relaxed drinking laws create a social standard based not on fear but on understanding, and children learn to see beer as a reward for a hard day’s work, and just one piece of the European life well-lived.
While parents catch up over drinks, the children are at play. A proper biergarten often has a space devoted to children. At many establishments this means a jungle gym, slide, sandbox, or other diversion. This gives the adults the chance to relax without having to call a babysitter. The children play safely within sight while their parents enjoy a night out. The biergarten is a place for all.
Guests of all ages pack the wooden benches and it’s not uncommon or rude to ask to take an empty seat next to strangers.
You’ll likely end up with some good conversation to go with your local food and drink.
While you sip your suds you may end up making some new friends.
The beer and food you enjoy here will likely be local specialties. You’ll find the obligatory schnitzel and bratwurst, but you may see some regional variations on the menu, which might include some wild game in more rural places. Food is procured from a counter, and if it’s busy you may be asked to take a number. While you’re waiting for your meal you can head to the beer counter to grab a beverage. Pils, dunkel, hefe —these are biergarten staples, and the beer on offer will most certainly be local.
All things considered, the German biergarten is the ideal place to wind down on an unseasonably warm fall day. The good food, good beer and friendly family atmosphere in a natural setting make this, to many, the perfect place to end the day.